On My First Daughter: A Response and Analysis
Of the small collection of poems that I have amassed, On My First Daughter By Ben Jonson is one of favorites. With his predictable title that almost always begins with “On…” I could immediately deduce the contents of the poem; however, I was still surprised by how much I related to it. Within the twelve-line poem, Jonson uses assonance, alliteration, and an overarching rhyme scheme to craft his ‘timeless tale’. He begins relating to the reader who either has parents or is one him or herself: “Here lies, to each parents’ ruth, Mary, the daughter of their youth”(line 1) He then unravels the joys and sorrows that accompany raising a daughter.
Jonson initially argues that at the end of six months”, his beautiful daughter, among many, parts from her parents. Because I have also read his other poem On My First Son, this line, in particular, fascinates me because he states that a girl parts from her parents at six months, while, On My First Son argues that a boy parts from his parents after seven years. Though Jonson hyperbolizes because neither a son nor a daughter leaves a home at such an age, it is interesting that he addresses the prevalent difference in maturity between the male and female sex. Also, Jonson chooses to make his daughter’s name, Mary, as in the Virgin Mary in the Bible “whose soul heaven’s queen, whose name (his daughter) bears”(line 7). Though this may go unnoticed, the choice is meant to convey a young girl’s spiritual and virtual perfection in the eyes of her parent’s before she is deflowered by the world.
I personally enjoy this poem because I am my father’s first daughter. Although we have countless differences, for some reason my title as his first daughter always seems to put me at an advantage among my other siblings. In this way, I have heard the phrase, “It seems like just yesterday you were my baby girl” come out of him too many times and have even learned to mute the words when they are released. Nevertheless, this poem gave me a chance to take a step into my father’s shoes. Whether he was nagging me about the outfit I wore to my first mixer in sixth grade or the red lipstick that I was wearing on Halloween, he always seems to have something to say about the way I look. I can remember the first time I played dress up in my mother’s closet and though it was not at six months, it was not long after infancy either. In contrast, my brother probably did not even start to think about who or what he wanted to be when he was older until he was around seven years old. Even this little action could devastate a father who never wants to see his ‘little girl’ grow up.
For a father, every moment with his daughter is tough. To him, my soul is “heaven’s queen” and the ultimate battle is to protect my “innocence”(line 7,6). I often tell him that he is too worried about me especially on the day when he sent to boarding school for the first time. I could see his eyes begin to water as if he had placed me “amongst (my) virgin train”. He truly believed that going to boarding school was going to deflower me (line 9). Unlike the late 16th century, the life expectancy is a lot longer today and women do not have to “grow up” and have children as fast. However, the modern media and social world has sped up the process of maturity. In this way, I have uncovered the ‘ruth’ of being a parent—a father in particular— and I credit it all to Ben Jonson’s piece On (His) First Daughter.